If you haven’t yet come across Karin Majoka, her YouTube Channel will surely be a delight for all analogue devotees. Her authentic and unpretentious approach to film photography is a welcome breath of fresh air and very much in harmony with Lomography's spirit.
A true autodidact, after accidentally stumbling her way into film photography in 2017 Karin has eagerly experimented with the practice in every way she can. Browsing her Instagram you’ll find street photography, artful portraits, as well as moody black & white landscapes, all shot with a dizzying variety of cameras, film and formats. Oh, and when she’s not experimenting with film or editing videos, she’s also a clinical psychologist.
We hope you enjoy this chat with Karin that covers everything from the unpredictable excitement of creative variety, to imposter syndrome and the need for more female representation in the analogue community.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
My name is Karin Majoka and I am a 28-year-old film photographer from Germany. Even though I have been taking photos for several years now and share my photography journey publicly on my YouTube channel, it still does not feel completely right to call myself a “photographer”. Maybe that is because I have never studied or learned about photography academically or professionally. But maybe it also is because photography is only a small part of the art I like to engage in. Besides photography, I have a love for arts in general: amongst others, I like drawing, painting, and improvisational theatre. But I also like to visit museums, learn about art history and philosophize about the connections between all those art forms.
When it comes to photographic genres, I am just as erratic as when it comes to forms of art in general. I do a little bit of everything (and master nothing), because I like to experiment and play around with different media. Street photography, portrait photography, and urban landscape are some of the areas I enjoy the most at the moment. In my main profession I am working as a clinical psychologist, currently in training to become a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist.
How did you discover and get into film photography?
To be honest my journey into film photography was completely by accident. When I was in my late teens, I had the goal in mind to study fine art, which is why I learned classical oil painting at an art academy. Getting the right reference images from the internet has always been a challenge which is why I decided to buy a digital camera (my first camera was a Nikon D5000) and simply take the referencing pictures myself.
In 2017 I moved to Norway to continue some of my studies there. In order to meet new people (and hopefully also learn about all the great places around Scandinavia worth visiting and taking touristy photos of), I joined the student photography club. On the first meeting of the club I looked around and noticed that I was one of the only people carrying a digital camera with me. It turned out that the club specialised in analogue photography, being furnished with a fully equipped darkroom and free access to chemicals. I set my first foot into a darkroom that evening and was instantly enchanted. The next day I toured all second hand stores I knew of in the city and bought myself the first 35 mm camera I could find - a Konica Autoreflex TC, which I still own to this day. I shot and developed my first roll of black & white film some weeks later in that community darkroom and was completely taken over to the dark side of analogue photography.
Your academic background is in psychology. How does that intersect with your work as an artist? Or do you prefer to keep the two worlds separate?
I don’t think it’s possible to keep one‘s background completely out of one‘s art. And especially with something like psychology it’s impossible. Psychology is a way to understand peoples’ behaviours, thoughts and emotions. And while psychology does so with words, for me photography is an attempt to also do so with a camera. I take photos of people or things that interest me. Things I want to understand or that help me understand some things about myself. Therefore, I think photography and psychology are closely related and inseparable on a cognitive level.
In practical terms, in my work as a clinical psychologist the connection might be less tangible but is still there. As a psychologist working with people on a one-on-one basis, it’s important to see all of my patients in their individuality. But because of that, no therapy session is the same but my job always requires me to use my suitcase of methods in a novel and unique way. This skill of cognitive creativity is also something I observe making use of when taking photos or producing videos. Even though I might shoot the same camera with the same film in the same location - two situations will never be exactly the same. So, when taking photos with tools I know or tools I am not familiar with, I always have to be open and think of novel and unique directions to go in.
But to end it on another note: I try to keep separate identities for my photography work and my work as a psychologist so that my patients cannot find my videos and my viewers cannot find my academic history, since a sense of privacy is extremely important for me. If Karin Majoka is my real name or not might therefore forever stay a secret.
What made you decide to start the YouTube channel?
After my first roll of film back in 2017, I started to become more and more obsessed with film and everything related. I consumed everything about cameras and film that I could find back then: blog posts, forums, magazines, facebook groups, instagram posts, and of course also YouTube videos. On my way of becoming a full on camera nerd, I noticed that there were only a few women represented in the film photography media I consumed.
I would consider myself to be more on the shy and introverted side, so starting a public YouTube channel did not lay all that close to me. However, in 2020 when the pandemic started and the lockdown in Germany was very strict, I found myself in a rut of monotony. It was not allowed to go out, which also means going out to take photos was not possible for a while. At the same time my department at work shut down for a couple of weeks. Since I would have gone mad without anything to do, I decided to let out my inner photography nerd by talking about photography instead. I recorded my first video as a test and really enjoyed the additional dimensions videography had in comparison to photography since there was also audio and editing to play around with. To be honest, I hesitated a lot whether to upload the video or not. In the end, feeling the need to have more female representation in the film community gave me the final push.
I love your video series where you photograph and interview your friends. How did that project come about?
I would call this project a “calculated coincidence”. It all started when I got my first medium format camera, a Bronica ETRSi which sparked my interest in portrait photography. On my first test roll with my new baby, I walked around the house and asked my friends to “model” for me so that I could try out if the camera is working properly. After developing the roll, I did not only find out that my camera is working perfectly but also that portraits on medium format film have another quality with more depth and character than I was used from my 35 mm images.
I quickly realised that portrait photography seems to be something very technical: instructors tell you everything about the lighting setup, about the camera setting, and - if it’s a fashion related shoot - also everything about the make-up and clothes. This tech-talk was usually something I enjoyed when consuming film photography content, but when it came to portraits it kind of shocked me. What I was missing was to also learn some more about the brave person that is standing in front of the camera. I was irritated by how much you see of models in front of the camera but how little you actually learn about them.
I wanted the viewer to be able to get to know the person in front of the camera. Since it all started with my first test exposure of friends, it only made sense to continue it that way and take up an “analogue dialog” with my friends. It’s surprising for me that there is still so much more to learn about the people that are close and dear to me and that I have known for many years - simply by starting a real conversation and getting into new situations like taking photos together.
Which cameras and film do you like to use?
Over time my camera and film collection grew and grew, so it’s good to differentiate between the cameras I “own” and the camera I “use” (I am trying to minimize the discrepancy, I promise!) My all time favorite camera is and probably will be my Leica M6. It has a special emotional value for me, but also is the camera that is the most unobtrusive in my workflow since it’s simple and straight-forward. Recently, I have shot a lot on my Hasselblad XPAN as well, a 35 mm camera that shoots panoramic images almost double the size of a regular 35 mm negative. It’s been an interesting and almost addictive endeavour to see the world in a wide aspect ratio.
Regarding film: I am probably one of the few people who does not care about consistency in their “look” all that much, which is why I use all kinds of film. I like alternation and experimentation so I shoot whatever film I can get my hands on. Consumer grade films, professional films, effect films, fresh films, expired films, expensive films, cheap films. It doesn‘t really matter, I take what feels right in the moment. If I had to choose though, I would probably say that Cinestill 800T is one of my favourite colour films. However, more experimental films like LomoChrome Metropolis and LomoChrome Purple are films that challenge my creativity the most, which I enjoy a lot.
You’ve experimented with a lot of different gear, as well as expired film, different methods of shooting, weather conditions etc. What has been the most surprising result from these experiments?
Light leaks, color deviations, unexpected streaks on the film base, or wrongly cut negatives I had to puzzle together are some of the unexpected surprises I encountered that probably a lot of us might know too well. However, one of my favourite incidents so far has been that one of my cameras caught a bug. Literally. A bug was stuck inside my Bronica ETRSi.
I was on holiday by the baltic sea with my family and recorded a video of shooting film on that occasion. At one point I changed my film back from black & white to color film. As I switched out the film back a little fly must have crawled inside of the camera body and decided to happily walk over my loaded film in the camera. I only noticed this after developing and scanning my film weeks later: That little bug appeared as a silhouette in life size on a number of frames. My favourite shot of the stuck bug was the one of the wind pole though, because it looks exactly like a net trying to catch the bug. As Bob Ross would say: that was a happy little accident.
Anything exciting coming up in 2022 that we should know about?
On the one hand, there are still a lot of videos I have already shot, that are only waiting to finally be edited. For instance, there are still a couple of episodes from Berlin, Copenhagen and my parents’ hometown in Poland in the starting blocks. On the other hand, I had to move recently, downsizing from a big house I lived in with some friends to a smaller flat I share with my fiancé. Before, I had an office (where I shot most of my videos), a dedicated darkroom in the cellar and a shared art studio in the attic - and now all of that has to fit in one room in the new apartment. This has forced me to think more creatively about the ways I want to utilise my space.
I am currently working on a mobile darkroom and am planning to install a background system for portraits in my office. And since I think that many photographers might share the “space problem” when it comes to their hobby, it might be nice to share my journey with others and hopefully also motivate some people to see space and budget as a challenge which can be overcome creatively. And trust me: the excuse “I don’t have space to develop my film at home or have a darkroom” is mostly just a mental and not a factual obstacle. Also, to tickle the gear heads out there: I bought a new lens for a camera I do not own (yet!) So 2022 will also bring some shuffling of my camera arsenal.